August 9, 2010 in City

Superior Court judge talks about life on, beyond the bench

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Judge Neal Rielly, shown sitting at his desk in a juvenile court room Thursday, is retiring after 22 years on the bench in Spokane.
(Full-size photo)

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Neal Rielly is only three weeks away from hanging up the black robe for good.

The 66-year-old court official said he will officially step down on Friday, Aug. 27. Rielly started working as a court commissioner in 1989 and was appointed to the Superior Court in the fall of 1995.

“I loved being a judge,” Rielly said. “It’s just been wonderful. I’m not burned out. I’m not angry. I just feel it’s time to change,” he said.

Rielly graduated from the Gonzaga University School of Law in 1975 and joined the firm headed by the legendary Kathleen Taft, who was one of the oldest practicing attorneys in the country when she died in 2005 at the age of 98.

That same Spokane law office was home for a time to former U.S. Speaker of the House Tom Foley and former Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Guy.

Q. What gave you the most satisfaction about serving as judge?

A. I have really enjoyed working with the public. So many people come to the courtroom at a time of crisis in their life. Occasionally there is an adoption. But I have enjoyed helping people resolve their problems. When they are in court, they are under stress and all the hard things of the world are beating at them. I had to realize there is a better person inside there. When they go through a divorce, it’s a horrible time in their lives. Sometimes they say things they later regret. That’s not the real person saying that. Frankly, working with the public has been a real blessing.

Q. How much of legal work is done through negotiations between attorneys in the judge’s chambers?

A. I never really get involved in the negotiations. Sometimes I bring them into chambers to find out what the issues are so I can deal with them in the most efficient way possible. I talk to them. If they have an issue that seems to be a positive thing, I’ll tell them to take their clients into the jury room and see if you can resolve that issue. Major decisions aren’t made in chambers. That would be improper.

Q. As an equal branch of government, what is the greatest threat to judicial independence?

A. We are not properly financed. We don’t get the funds to do our job in the manner we should be doing it. The executive branch controls the funds we have. They are required by law to give us the necessary and reasonable funds to do our job. If they choose not to give us that money, that can limit how we do our jobs. It’s a constant exchange between the legislative, judicial and executive branches trying to meet that. I think that is the No. 1 threat to judicial independence.

Q. What did you enjoy the most and least about serving as judge?

A. It’s really been a blast. I have enjoyed working with the lawyers over the years. There are so many fine attorneys out there. And, I’m going to miss my staff like crazy. What I’ll miss the least is I’m a bit tired of making decisions. That’s what my responsibility is. Sometimes I come home and Barb says, ‘What do you want for dinner?’ I’ll say, ‘I don’t care. I don’t want to make any more decisions.’ I’m ready not to make so many decisions.

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